By Gus Saltonstall

There are few events capable of evoking a deeper Upper West Side vibe than an outdoor Riverside Park screening of a documentary film about a world-class musician who also happens to care for a colony of feral cats in the same park.

And yet that is exactly what we have here.

The documentary—Feral Love, about New York Philharmonic violist Dorian Rence and the cats she cares for under the highway in the Amtrak tunnel at 72nd Street—will be the focus of an eclectic evening sponsored by NYC Parks & Summer on the Hudson on Friday, June 23rd. (Postponed)

The event begins at 7:30pm at the 72nd Track and Lawn—right next to the area where Dorian cares for the cats—with live music performed by two ensembles from the symphonic arm of the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps.

Markie Hancock, the director of Feral Love and co-founder of Hancock Productions—a company that has produced a wide assortment of well-acclaimed documentaries since its founding in 1996—was inspired to tell Dorian Rence’s story after months of seeing Rence routinely feed her cats in the park.

Once day, Rence approached Hancock and asked if she could feed the cats for three weeks because she would be traveling. Hancock, who had more or less labeled Rence a “crazy cat lady”, initially smiled and asked her what she would be traveling for.

Rence replied casually, “I play viola with the New York Philharmonic.”

At that moment, the documentary was born.

Hancock, who is also a longtime resident of the Upper West Side, said of Rence, “On one hand she is completely unassuming. On the other hand, she’s a world-class musician. That’s New York, what I love about New York. You just don’t know—everybody has a story.”

The screening will also include the showing of a short opening film, about the cats that make their home at the Riverside Clay Tennis Association’s courts at 475 Riverside Drive (96th Street).

There is a method to all this feral madness, as well as true affection.

“The practical reason is that we hope that their presence keeps the rat population down,” said Mark McIntyre, executive director of the RCTA. “The rats undermine (quite literally) our beautiful gardens. But the real reason is that we grow fond of them and then fall in love with them.”

The documentary also comes with a big charity component—the first $5,000 in sales from Feral Love will be donated to the Best Friends Animal Society to support their work in helping cat communities across the country.

“The inspiration for the film started with Dorian. I just think it’s a beautiful thing for someone to care for people and creatures less fortunate than ourselves like she does,” said Hancock, describing the message she hopes people will take from the film.

The evening begins at 7:30 with live music at the 72nd Street Track and Lawn. Admission is free. For more information, click here. And check out the trailer below.

ART, NEWS, OUTDOORS | 21 comments | permalink
    1. OriginalMark says:

      I wish I could make it to the screening. From the trailer and this description, Dorian seems like the kind of person that makes NYC so wonderful and fascinating!

    2. Bill says:

      Correction: Dorian is a violist, not a violinist.

    3. zeus says:

      I command this fine soul. Great work on behalf of the cats.
      However, what needs to be done is fix these cats so they can not multiply.
      I will try to be there on Friday.
      Bravo to Dorian Rence!

    4. Terry says:

      One might hope that feral cats keep the park’s rat population down, but in reality the cats are more likely to prey on wild birds.

      Feral cats kill more than a billion birds in the U.S. each year, according to a 2013 study: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/feral-cats-kill-billions-of-small-critters-each-year-7814590/

      Those who feed stray cats should know that they’re contributing to the death of many beautiful sonbirds.

      • That Jack Built says:

        Those who criticize those who support those who feed those who destroy songbirds should know that birds, in addition to spreading disease, fouling public areas, and contributing to noise pollution, also kill more than ten trillion insects per year according to estimates retrieved from Advanced Statistical Systems. This phenomenon is widely observed in nature and is referred to by many as ‘The Food Chain’ .

      • OriginalMark says:

        Sometimes those birds cast a shadow on the park.
        Therefore they should be killed.

      • Cat&BirdLover says:

        Just a guess, but I’m thinking that if people stopped feeding feral cats, the feral cats would kill even more birds for food. An alternative consequence might be that some of the feral cats would die of starvation, something which I would imagine would be of as much concern to someone concerned about the death of feral birds as the death of feral birds.

    5. Leslie Thomas says:

      I can’t make it to this screening, but I’d like to see the film. Is there another way to see it?

    6. Chip says:

      No mention as to whether there is a spay-neuter program in effect.

    7. Lis Krosov says:

      Surprised the ASPCA hasn’t rounded them up. NY Winters are cold and miserable. Hot Summers …the same.

      • Jody says:

        Rounding them up won’t help. They need spay/neuter and feral housing. Anyone can help feral cats by making a feral cat house from a container with hay.

    8. Fellow Cat Lover says:

      What a sweet film. Rence is an interesting woman, with a heart for animals as big as her talent for music. Watching this film is like meeting a neighbor and making a friend. I like you, Dorian Rence. You’re good people.

    9. connie says:

      Rain predicted. Is there a rain date and notification of cancellation? Thx

    10. Eighty says:

      Will this be rescheduled?

      • West Sider says:

        Yes, they say they’re planning to reschedule it, and we’ll try to find out when. WSR